Genachowski: Broadcast's Successful Past Could Impede Broadband's Successful Future

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Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski was stumping for spectrum incentive auctions Monday in a speech to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.

He argued that, ironically, the success of broadcasters in the last century was proving to be some impediment to the rise of a new communications platform, broadband, in this case.

Congress has to give the FCC the authority to compensate broadcasters out of the proceeds from the auction of broadcast spectrum reclaimed for wireless broadband. The FCC will need that money if it is to get broadcasters to volunteer to reduce their spectrum or give it up entirely.

And that auction incentive proposal is critical to freeing up the 500 Mhz of spectrum for mobile wireless envisioned in the National Broadband Plan, Genachowski said. He pointed out that the Obama administration has endorsed it. There are also bills in Congress supported by both Democrats and Republicans that would authorize the auctions.

"It's time to turn that support into law," Genachowski added. "The sooner incentive auction legislation is adopted, the sooner we can unleash spectrum for mobile broadband, and the sooner we'll see the benefits to consumers and taxpayers, to our economy and our ability to lead the world in 4G mobile. This is a choice between bringing market forces into spectrum allocations, or keeping a status quo that is destined to harm our global competitiveness and frustrate mobile consumers."

According to a copy of his prepared testimony, the chairman spoke of broadcasting as a success story, but suggested it was last century's success and it was time to look to a new future. Saying it was something of an irony, he said that, "There are areas where our country's success in the 20th century makes it harder to do what's necessary in the 21st."

One of those, he said, was broadcasting and its use of spectrum.

"What happened with broadcast spectrum in the 20th century was a remarkable success," he said. "By opening up spectrum for commercial use, we made it possible for entrepreneurs to create a large and successful over-the-air broadcast TV industry that in turn helped create our extraordinarily successful U.S. content industry, bringing real benefits to our economy and beyond."

But the underlying message was that viewers were moving away from broadcasting to view that content on new platforms, ones that now needed some of the spectrum broadcasters had used to build their business. "Fast forward to today," he continued, and "Less than ten percent of us - down from 100 percent - still get our television programming from over-the-air broadcast transmissions. Instead, people watch TV through cable or satellite. The world has changed, but our spectrum allocations still reflect the previous era."

The chairman's remarks came the same day that the National Telecommunications & Information Administration announced its five-year and 10-year plans for reclaiming government and private spectrum. That includes the FCC's plan to get 125 Mhz from broadcasters by incentivizing them--paying them--to give it up, or move to smaller spectrum quarters, including possibly sharing. To make way for those possibilities, the FCC plans to take a series of spectrum actions at its Nov. 30 meeting, including rewriting the rules to allow for channel sharing, to make the VHF band more attractive for the broadcasters it want to relocate to lower channel numbers, and to allow for greater experimentation with flexible spectrum use.

Broadcasters are willing to consider a voluntary system in which some broadcasters participate, but the National Association of Broadcasters has also made it clear if feels the industry is part of the broadband and mobile video future of the 21st century.

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